Comic-Con and Two Completely Impractical Ways to Improve it

You know a convention has gotten big when it takes you several days to recover from it. I’ve even now heard a wonderful term for the phenomenon: “Connui”. We’re not just talking travel times and unpacking here, but genuine brain fuzz and malaise as you try to make sense of the experience and readjust to the “real world”, perhaps while watching a top spin on the table in front of you.

Have I truly returned from San Diego?

 Hey, come to think of it, if Comic-Con managed to do that whole “dream within a dream thing” I bet they could cram in a lot more attendees and exhibitors. I don’t think fire marshals have jursidiction over the capacity of an imagination… then again, it’s all fun and games until one of the projections gets pissed off and stabs you in the eye.

So yeah, not everything went smoothly this year, but apparently the police have officially labeled that ruckus as a “minor incident” and it was quickly forgotten. I ponder how accomodating the authorities would have been if San Diego weren’t currently in a desperate struggle to keep Comic-Con from leaving them, but it really was an anomaly. What can you do? The weapon in question was a pen. Ban pens from Comic-Con? I see problems there.

The ironic thing is that the organizers made visible, marked improvements to the experience this year that I would have thought might cool tempers down rather than heat them up. For the first time ever, the outside line for Hall H enjoyed overhead canopies for most of its (humongous) length, keeping the evil yellow disc in the sky from mercilessly burning the pale throngs of nerds camped out in hopes of seeing their movie panel. The canopies actually did double duty this year since it was an unusually cold and precipitous first few days, actually coming close to drizzle at times. Beyond that, the neighboring Bayfront Hilton actually came out to distribute free pillows and blankets to the dedicated souls that decided to actually sleep in that line for an early start the next day. I don’t know if it’s something they arranged ahead of time with Comic-Con or just thought up spur of the moment, but regardless, how nice was that?

The Hilton and Mariott were two of the hotels next to Comic-Con which this year began hosting some events and exhibitions to take pressure off of the main hall, including the always packed Venture Bros. panel I made reference to a couple weeks ago. By all accounts I’ve heard, the experiment was a success. People tend not to mind leaving the Center… we do it all the time anyhow to get lunch in the Gaslamp, and no one goes to Comic-Con thinking they’re going to get away without walking around a lot. Dawn and I already knew about the “Bioware Annex” that was once again present a short walk away, and it’s a perfectly intelligent conclusion for Comic-Con to officially start doing the same thing with their own programming. It doesn’t get rid of the lines, but at least the lines aren’t all in the same place, and there’s less chance of your panel being crammed full of people who aren’t interested in your work and are just trying to make sure they have a spot for the next one. Bill Willingham seemed much happier this year, by accounts of this reviewer.

The pre-bought parking experiment Comic-Con tried out this year worked out just as advertised. I was skeptical so didn’t splurge on it, but I tried out getting a pass for the Hilton Bayfront’s lot on Wednesday since we always park there to unload Dawn’s art for the Art Show before going to our hotel. For the past few years trying to find parking there has been a nightmarishly long ordeal. This year? We showed our printout, were waved inside, and found a space within two minutes. I had been wondering how they would discriminate between the pre-buy people and those who were just showing up, but the answer was readily apparent from signs on the street before we even got near the center warning us that parking for the Convention Center and Hilton was sold out. This no doubt was a nasty surprise for people who hadn’t been paying attention to the announcements and didn’t pre-buy, but it sure made things easier on those of us who did. Next year is no doubt going to be a mad scramble when the pre-buys open up, but that still beats driving around a completely packed parking structure for over an hour, praying desperately for someone to leave.

Another first time innovation was an improved schedule, with a pull-out section not only showing maps for all the sections of the convention hall and the hotel annexes, but precisely where the lines for each room would be formed up and (for some areas) which way the foot traffic should flow. I hope whoever suggested the addition of that information got a medal, or maybe at least a ‘GET INTO PANEL FREE’ pass.

In fact, it’s entirely possible some of this may have come about from attendee feedback. Every year on Sunday afternoon, Comic-Con hosts a panel for just that purpose. I have yet to attend one, to be honest, so I don’t know how much of it is constructive criticism and how much is just people bitching that their feet hurt (I could so totally do that). I was thinking about going this year before I found out a friend from previous conventions that I hadn’t said hello to yet was part of a panel occurring at the same time. So I figured I’d do the next best thing and post a couple of my suggestions on a blog that maybe a dozen or so people glance at. Now that’s effective communication! Here then, finally, are a couple of my (probably ludicrous) thoughts on how Comic-Con could still be improved.

Firstly, I noted this year that a ‘skyway’ is under construction that crosses Harbor Blvd. Unfortunately, this skyway is about a block further down that would be useful for helping with Comic-Con foot traffic, instead bridging the gap between the Hilton parking lot and Petco Park. Great for Padres games and such, which is probably the intent, but I sorely wish there was one from the middle of the Convention Center over to the Gaslamp District. Why? Well, here’s the thing, if you’re not familiar with the layout: all the train tracks for the area run right in between the two. And I’m not just talking the trolley service which helps a lot of con-goers get back and forth, I’m talking freight lines. I still remember a few years back when a freight train went through just as the exhibit hall was letting out, trapping a positively massive crowd in an area way too small for it for at least 20 minutes.

You get a skyway built, and theoretically the foot traffic can flow unimpeded, bypassing both any trains and the vehicular traffic on Harbor Blvd (including the shuttle buses which also help people get to and from their hotels). The drawback being the expense, and that I’m not entirely sure how useful it would be at other times of the year. It would have to be a fairly wide structure to accomodate the flow in both directions, but on the other hand there’d be no walk signals and train crossings stopping things up.

The other ludicrous idea in my head is something akin to those real-time traffic reports you can access on the web at places like SigAlert.com, but applied to panels. Comic-Con already has a mobile app set up, but it only tells you schedules and locations. What if it went further? What if you could scroll around a map of the convention center and find real-time data on which panel rooms and/or lines are “green”, “yellow”, and “red”, or completely closed off? Perhaps with estimated wait times or capacity vs. current attendance? Now, you’d have to have some convention volunteers walking around and entering this data, or maybe even try to get the temp security to do it (gulp), but wouldn’t it be fantastic to know that you have no chance in hell of getting into that panel before you trek all the way across the center to check on it? I mean, not fantastic, but at least your feet will be in better shape while you wallow in disappointment.

That latter is probably much more easily and quickly implemented than a skyway, truth be told, and could also work no matter where Comic-Con ends up in the future, which is a big consideration. There’s no way in hell San Diego would even start to think about something like that skyway unless Comic-Con commits to staying put. Supposedly that announcement will be made by the end of August, one way or another. Personally, I’m still hoping it stays put, regardless of the Anaheim and Los Angeles options being closer. My reasons for this are as myriad as they are selfish, but probably more than anything, it’s that we’ve still got two more years to go in San Diego, and if Comic-Con announces they’re leaving, well, I don’t expect San Diego’s going to be quite so accomodating to us nerds in 2011 and 2012. They might even get downright surly. I don’t expect anything on the scale of LeBron trying to hang out in Cleveland, but if we’re all just packing up and leaving anyhow, is there really any incentive for them to continue to be nice? Impending end of the world notwithstanding.

Ah well, we’ll find out soon enough. Time to go back to staring at that top. Gonna fall over any second now… any second…

About Clint

Clint Wolf is an opinionated nerd, who writes a comic (Zombie Ranch) about cowboys who wrangle zombies. We didn't claim he made sense. http://cwolf.zxq.net/
This entry was posted in I'm Just Sayin, Nerd Alert and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Comic-Con and Two Completely Impractical Ways to Improve it

  1. jess says:

    I’m liking this idea of a con sigalert; either a website or an iPhone / Droid app. But I’m thinking crowd-sourcing would be the way to go here; all the data would be user reported. “Sez here the Twilight panel is all congested guys, but the everything’s green on the walk of shame. Let’s all get Reggie Bannister’s autograph instead.”

    • Clint says:

      The thing about leaving the data reporting up to the users is that I could see unscrupulous folk reporting a panel as closed when it’s not.

      This would be completely petty, stupid, and very probably pointless… which in my estimation means it is a very likely outcome.

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